Collective Solipsism

Winston shrank back upon the bed. Whatever he said, the swift answer crushed him like a bludgeon. And yet he knew, he knew, that he was in the right. The belief that nothing exists outside your own mind — surely there must be some way of demonstrating that it was false? Had it not been exposed long ago as a fallacy? There was even a name for it, which he had forgotten. A faint smile twitched the corners of O’Brien’s mouth as he looked down at him.

I told you, Winston, that metaphysics is not your strong point. The word you are trying to think of is solipsism. But you are mistaken. This is not solipsism. Collective solipsism, if you like. But that is a different thing: in fact, the opposite thing. All this is a digression. The real power, the power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things, but over men.

George Orwell – 1984

Perfect Knowledge

Buddha had once said: “The things, Oh Sariputra, they do not exist as they seem to the ordinary unenlightened people, who are attached to them.” Sariputra said, “So how do things exist, my Master?” Buddha replied: “They exist only in such a way that they actually do not exist. As they do not exist, they should be called Avidyā, which means non-existent. It is them that the ordinary unenlightened people are attached to, who imagine that objects in fact exist, while none of them are existent.”

Then Buddha asked the Venerable Subhuti: “Do you think Subhuti that illusion is one thing and body another? Is illusion one thing and feeling another? Idea another? Shape another? Knowledge another?” Subhuti replied: “No, my Master.” Then Buddha said: “The nature of illusion makes things what they are. This is done in such a way, Oh Subhuti, as if a skillful wizzard or wizard’s apprentice pointed at crowds of people at the crossroads and, upon showing them, made them disappear again.”

Prajñāpāramitā (Perfect knowledge)

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

I’m now almost convinced of it. It seemed clear that life and the world were now as if dependent on me. One might even say that the world was now as if made for me alone: I’d shoot myself and there would be no more world, at least for me. Not to mention that maybe there would indeed be nothing for anyone after me, and that as soon as my consciousness was extinguished, the whole world would be extinguished at once, like a phantom, like a mere accessory of my consciousness, it would be done away with, for maybe all this world and all these people were – just myself alone.

Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

Brain in a Vat

Thought experiment: the brain is closed in the dish and stimulated by an apparatus connected to receive stimuli. This apparatus (or scientist through it) creates a perfectly coherent illusion of the existence of persons, objects of everyday experience (however, all experiences are actually the result of electrical impulses sent by the computer). You can go ahead and assume that all people (all sensory organisms) are the brains (nervous systems) in the vessels connected to the system that generates a collective hallucination.

Hilary Putnam


Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford her a world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew one out. “Rischt!” how it blazed, how it burnt! It was a warm, bright flame, like a candle, as she held her hands over it.

It was a wonderful light. It seemed really to the little maiden as though she were sitting before a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a brass ornament at top. The fire burned with such blessed influence; it warmed so delightfully. The little girl had already stretched out her feet to warm them too; but the small flame went out, the stove vanished: she had only the remains of the burnt-out match in her hand.

Hans Christian Andersen – The Little Match Girl